Text of Peter Morales Statement

A letter signed by more than 50 UUMA colleagues was sent to me a couple of days ago. It followed a discussion on the UUMA Chat. Feel free to share the contents of this post.

Dear .... UUMA Colleagues,

Thank you for your letter expressing concern about the decision by the UUA Board to set aside $100,000 for governance consulting. In a period of budget constraints which forced the UUA to lay off staff, the decision to use $100,000 from reserves to pay for consulting must appear puzzling at best and bizarre at worst. Here at the UUA the issue of layoffs is real and personal. These are colleagues and friends, not abstract positions and budget lines. 

Let me give some background. The proposal to add $100,000 to the budget was the result of the board’s discussion in executive session near the end of a four day meeting. I was not part of that discussion, nor was any member of the administration. The first I or any member of the UUA senior staff heard of this was Sunday afternoon. Prior to the executive session several members of the Board stated that they did not want to approve the budget. That would have put the budget in limbo. I have heard nothing about what was discussed in executive session. I find it troubling that budget decisions were made in a session that was not public. Earlier during the meeting I expressed my disagreement with using executive sessions in this way. In the end, it is the board’s decision and I raised no further objections when they voted to go into executive session.  

We need to understand the context and the full proposal. The proposal placed before me was not just to put $100,000 in the budget for governance consulting, but also to approve the budget the administration had submitted and to commit to enter into a dialog with the new board and moderator about the monitoring process. In a letter to the board before the January meeting I had expressed the senior staff’s view that the monitoring process we are using is not working. As further background, the administration has requested a collaborative process for arriving at “interpretations” of ends and of the appropriate metrics for monitoring reports for three years. 

In short, the option presented at the Sunday afternoon meeting was to approve the budget as presented and to agree to a process of dialog with the new board. I saw, and continue to see, the $100,000 as a fund to draw upon if the new board and moderator, in dialog with me and our senior leadership, believe that level of consulting is necessary. 

This is clearly a matter for the new moderator and the new board to decide in discussion with the administration. I personally hope we can work out a better relationship while using little, if any, of that money. 

A couple of other points need to be mentioned. Members of the board have said that the board did not receive a strategic plan with the budget. This is simply not the case. I suggest that people look at what we actually submitted (http://www.uua.org/documents/moralespeter/130402_strategic_vision.pdf). You may or may not agree with what we said or how it is expressed, but it is the strategic vision that guided every budget decision. I also urge you to look at our recent monitoring reports (http://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/manual/157925.shtml).

This administration is committed to accountability and transparency. We are not opposed to metrics. More than that, we are committed to excellence. (There is great irony and some humor here, since I have something of a reputation for being obsessed with data. I have taught research design and evaluation at the graduate level. My love of charts makes me the object of good natured teasing.) The real monitoring issues are about which measures are valid and reliable. We have a long way to go. Reasonable people will disagree and there is much uncertainty. Can any of you serving in a congregation make a causal link between money spent on religious education training and membership growth or RE attendance? 

I work with highly capable colleagues who are deeply committed to our faith.  Your Association, our Association, is worthy of our generous support. Don’t let disagreements about the mechanics of governance distract us from the excellent work we are doing. 

With all this said, I am hopeful and even optimistic. We have an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we govern our faith. The key, as always, is a genuine willingness to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. 

Peter Morales
Unitarian Universalist Association


  1. Clyde Grubbs10:58 AM

    "Can any of you serving in a congregation make a causal link between money spent on religious education training and membership growth or RE attendance? "

    Yes. We can measure impact. If childrens response to class led by a well trained teacher results in greater "class room morale" and if the parents hear their childrens increased enthusiasm then the lay and called congregational leaders will get measurable feedback. I recall parents telling me that they attend for their children and their childrens response to a class impacts their attendence.

    Since we have excellent resources and excellent trainings, we have many excellent examples of increased attendence. Pubiicizing these "best practices" could spur our many congregations that don't invest in excellence in religious education.

  2. The cost to an organization is really immeasurable when the top leadership are not working together well and cannot lead effectively. $100K does seem like a lot, but I think it would be (and has been) far more costly for the current situation to continue. We need an aligned board and administration so that all can be effective. I am hopeful.

  3. Clyde, as both a parent and a guy taking OWL training next weekend, I agree we can see that impact. But how would you measure it?

    For me as a math guy, measure means quantification. If there aren't numbers on it, you can still compare, but you haven't measured.

    We could take a survey of parents and of children, and that might be of some use if its limitations were respected (which so seldom happens), but teasing out which of a very large number of variables are responsible for changes in attendance is a hard problem.

    I'm not saying it's impossible, but asserting it's possible isn't proof.

    And there's a second problem down the road. Even if we had a method for doing so, I suspect enough congregations would fail to do the sort of work such measurement requires. This is anecdotal, so don't put too much weight on it, but it's also a true experience:

    Our Committee on Ministry has surveyed congregational life for over a decade, consistently enough to make long-term trends visible.

    I've been trying for two years to get the anonymized data in my hands. I'd like to know things like how our responses break down by age group, by member versus friend, by length of membership, and so on. No one is resisting me, exactly, but no one sees the point of it, either.

    Now, we believe in the usefulness of the data enough to go to some trouble to collect it, so you'd think we'd be enthusiastic about giving it serious analysis. But we aren't. That's the action taken from a fairly serious commitment. What can we expect association-wide?

  4. Clyde Grubbs3:04 PM

    We need to collect the information,

    and quanatative or qualative analysis (both have their place.)

    and we need see the point of doing that for purposes of evaluation.

  5. Sure, Clyde--but how?

    I'd like to see an answer to the questions raised here:

    My congregation in Albuquerque has doubled in size in the past 25 years, outperforming the Methodists (30% decline), the UUA in general (flat), and the population of the city (up 50%) And could I tell you, even in retrospect, how my budgets each year contributed to that growth? I can not. The best I can do is make some educated guesses. Bringing on a second minister, for instance, was clearly a part of our growth, although it had to be not only the right line item but the right minister to work. Funding a church band was probably helpful. On the other hand, our numbers of children have gone up and down without regard to the money we have poured into our RE program. All my prospective guesses about what might bring those elusive guests, growth and vitality, into our church have been just that. Guesses, Hopes, Optimistic plans; just the sort of thing that the administration set forth in the document called a strategic plan (you can see that yourself by following the link in Peter's letter, which is on Tom Schade's blog.

    I do know one thing about growth and vitality, however, which has nothing to do with reports and budgets, and that is that growth and vitality do not co-exist with the kind of conflict that the board and administration have engaged in over the past four years. A local church that sanctioned this kind of fighting between Board and MInister would be in decline, and the only hope of health would be both a consultant and the uprising of the people of the congregation saying, "Stop".

    That was Christine Robinson. This is me again:

    What the board is doing resembles the tactic I (and so many others) used as an organizer: Demand a solution to a problem and refuse to provide an answer. Put it on the other side to come up with the solution. If you don't like it, keep on refusing.

    It's a reasonable tactic in an adversarial situation.

    Is this an adversarial situation?


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